The Functions of the Family
The Functionalist theory of the family
Functionalists assume that society has certain basic needs of functional prerequisites that need to be met if it is to continue successfully into the future.
For example a successful society is underpinned by social order and economic stability, so the role of social institutions that make up society is to make sure it continues by:
- Transmitting values, norms etc., to the enext generation in order to reproduce consensus and therefore the culture of a society.
- Teaching particular skills in order that the economy - the engine of society - operates effectively.
- Allocating people to family and occupational roles which make best use of there talents.
Functionalists see the family as extremely functional, i.e. its existence is both beneficial and necessary for the smooth running of society and the presonal development of individuals.
The work of G.P. Murdock
Murdock (1949) compared over 250 societies and claimed that the nuclear family was universal. He found 4 functions essential to the continued existence of those societies:
Reproductive - Society requires new members to ensure is survival.
Sexual - This function serves both society and the individual. Marital sex creates a powerful emotional bond between a couple, encourages fidelity and therefore commits the individual to family life.
Educational - Culture needs to be transmitted to the next generation, so children need to be effectively socialised into the dominant values, norms, customs, rituals etc., of society.
Economic - Adult family members show their commitment to the care, protection and maintenance of their dependants by becoming productive workers and bringing home an income.
Evaluation on Murdock
Interpretivist sociologists argue that Murdock fails to acknowledge that families are the product of the culture rather than the biology.
Murdocks definition of the family and its functions is also quite conservative in that is deprivess certain members of society of family status; it implies that certain types of parenting - single, foster, homosexual and surrogate - are not a beneficial as the classic 2 hetrosexual parent's model.
Primary socialisation of children
Parsons (1955) saw the pre-industrial extended family as evolving into the modern nuclear family which specialised in the primary socialisation of children. Parsons believed that personalities are 'made not born' - a child could only become a social adult by internalising the shared norms and values of the society to which they belonged. Therefore saw nuclear families and 'personality factories', churning out young citizens committed to the rules, patterns of behaviour and belief systems which make involvement in social life possible.
Cheal (2002) puts is more simply: 'Parents today are encouraged to believe they have a special responsibility to ensure every child grows up happy, strong, confident, articulate, literate, and skilled in every possible respect.'
Parsons saw mothers as playing the major role in the process of nurturing and socialisation in families. Mothers were the 'expressive leaders' of the family who were biologically suited to looking after the emotional and cultural development of children.
Stabilisation of adult personality
Parsons argued that the second major specialised function of the family is to relieve the stress of modern-day living for its adult members. This theory is often called the 'warm bath' theory, claims that family life 'stabilises' adult personalities.
Steel and Kidd note the family does this by providing 'in the home a warm, loving, stable environment where the individual adults can be themselves and even "let themselves go" in a childish and undignified way. At the same time, the supervision and socialisation of children gives parents a sense of stability and responsibility'.
This emotional support and security, and the opportunity to engage in play with children, acts as a safety value in that is prevents stress from overwhelming adult family members and, as a result, it strengthens social stability.
Parsons viewed the family as a positive and beneficial place for all its members - a 'home sweet home', a 'haven in a heartless world' and a place in which people can be their natural selves.
Criticism of functionalist view of the family
Functionalist tend to view the family as a very harmonious - this view has been challenged by accounts of child abuse, domestic violence and the fall-out from divorce.
Cheal notes, functional relationships can easily slip into dysfunctional relationships, and love can often turn into hate in moments if intense emotion.
Functionalist analyses the nuclear family tend to be based on middle-class and American versions of family life, and they consequently neglect other influences, such as ethnicity, social class or religion.
For example Parsons does not consider the fact that wealth and poverty may determine whether women stay at home to look after children or not.
The Marxist critique
Marxist are very critical of primary socialisation in the nuclear family because they argue that it reproduces and maintains class inequality. They argue that the main function of the nuclear family is to distract the working class from the fact that they are exploited by capitalism. This is done in 2 ways:
- The hierarchial way in which nuclear families are traditionally organised ( e.g. male as the head of the household) discourages workers from questioning the hierarchial nature of capitalism and the inequalities in wealth and power result from it.
- Parents are encouraged to teach their children that the main route to happiness and status lies in consumerism and the acquisition of material possessions.
The functions on the nuclear family benefit those who run the capitalist system rather than the whole of society, as functionalists suggest.
The Marxist-feminist critique
Marxist-feminists argue that the nuclear family functions to benefit capitalism and, therefore, the wealthy rather than the whole society. Men too benefit from family life at the expense of women. Marxist-feminist argue that the focus on women as mothers put considerable cultural pressure on women to have children and to take time out of the labour market to bring them up. These children become the workforce of the future at little or no expense to the capitalist class. This also benefits men, because it means that women cannot compete on a level playing field for jobs or promotion opportunities if their first priority is looking after children.
Changes in the functions of the family
Procreation - The size of families have decline as people chose lifestyles over the expense of having children. Many women prefer to pursue careers and are making the decision not to have children.
Regulation Sex - Sex outside marriage is now the norm. Alternative sexualities e.g homosexuality, are becoming more socially accepted.
Stabilising personalities - A high percent of marriages are ending in divorce. However some argue divorce and remarriage rates are high because people continue to search for emotional security.
Economic - The family are still a crucial agency of economic support, especially as the housing market becomes more expensive for first-time buyers and young people are spend longer periods in education wit hte prospect of debt through student loans.
Welfare - A decline in state funding of welfare in the 1980s led to the encouragement of 'community care', in which the family, especially women - become responsible for the care of the elderly, the long-term sick and the disabled.
Socialisation - This is still rooted in the family, although there are concerns that the mass media and the peer group have become more influential, with the result that children are growing up faster.
The golden age of family life
Many new right thinkers see the 1960s and early 1970s as the beginning of a sustained attack on traditional family values, particularly by the state. They point to social policies, such as the legalisation of abortion in the 1960s and the NHS making the contraceptive pill available on prescription, as making the beginning of the family decline. The sexual freedom that women experienced as a result of these changes supposedly lessened their commitment to the family.
At the same time equal pay legislation distracted women from their 'natural' careers as mothers. The 1969 Divorce reform act was as undermining commitment to marriage.
New right views on the family reflect a familial ideology - a set of ideas about what constitutes an 'ideal' family. Their preferred model is the traditional nuclear family with a clear sexual division of labour.
This ideology is transmitted by sections of the media and advertising, politicians, religious leaders, and pressure groups such as 'Family and Youth Concern'.
Family Decline and the 'New Right'
This familial ideology also makes a number of assumptions about how not to organise family life. It sees the declining popularity of marriage, the increase of cohabitation, the number of births outside marriage, and teenage pregnacy as symptoms of the decline in the family mortality.
Homosexuality, single parenthood, liberal sex education, abortion and working mothers are all seen as threats, both to family stability and to the wellbeing of society itself.
State policy and the family
3 broad functions can be seen in state policy which suggest that the ideology of the traditional nuclear family has had, despite new right misgivings, some positive influences on government thinking:
1 Tax and Welfare policies have generally favoured and encouraged the heterosexual married couple rather than cohabiting couples, single parents and same-sex couples. Graham Allan (1985) goes as far as to suggest that these policies have actively discouraged cohabitation and one-parent families.
2 Policies such as the payment of child benefit to the mother, and the governments reluctance to fund free universal nursery provision, have reinforced the idea that women should take prime responsibility for children.
3 The fact that a coordinated set of family policies was not introduced until 1999 may reflect the state's traditional tendancy to see the family as a private institution and its reluctance to interfere in the family's internal organisation.
Criticisms of the New Right
State policy until 1997 was generally aimed at ensuring the family unit did not overwhelm the rights of the individuals within it. Therefore, legislation focused on improving the social and economic position of women
Post-1997 family policy
Lewis (2007) notes, UK governments, unlike European counterparts, dis not 'do' explicit family policy. However, Labour appointed a Minister for children in 2003, and in 2007, formed the new department for children, schools and families.
Lewis argues that Labour have particularly taken the idea of 'social investment in children' seriously and have increasingly recognised that family forms are changing. Lone mothers have ceased to be condemned as a moral problem and threat.
Labour has also recognised that there are few families in the 21st century which have exclusively a male breadwinner. Most families rely on 2 incomes and most women work. Lewis notes that Labour has:
- Invested in subsidies for nursery childcare
The population of the UK
The population if the UK grew steadily between 1971 and 2003 to reach 59.8 million people in 2004. Population projections suggest that is will reach 65 million in 2023 and 67 million by 2031, The rate of population change over time depends upon 4 demographic factors:
-The birth rate - refers to the number of live births per 1000 of the population over a year.
-The fertility rate - refers to the number of live births per 1000 women aged 15 - 44 over one year.
-The death rate - refers to the number of deaths per 1000 of the population over the course of a year.
-Migration - refers to the number of people entering the UK (i.e. immigration) and the number of people leaving the UK (i.e emigration).
Reasons of population growth
Up to the 1950s and 1960s, natural change was the main reason for population growth in the UK , although from the 1980s onwards, net migration (i.e. immigration exceeding emigration) has been the main factor.
Between 2001 and 2004, net migration accounted for two thirds of the increase in the UK population.
Changes in the birth rate
Only 716000 children were born in 2004. This is 34% fewer births than in 1901 and 21% fewer that 1971.
There was a fall in births during the first world war, followed by post war 'baby boom', with births peaking at 1.1 million in 1920. The number of births then fell and remained low during the interwar period. Births increased again after world war 2 with another 'baby boom'.
There was also an increase in births in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was a result of a larger cohort of women born in the 1960s entering childbearing years.
Since 2001, the birth rates has steadily risen. in 2007, the ONS announced that the 2006 birth rate was highest for 26 years
Changes in birth rate
There are a number of reasons why the number of births in the 21st century is lower than the number of births in 1901:
A major decline in infant mortality rate occurred. This began in the 19th century because the improvements in sanitation, water supplies and nutrition, and continues in the 20th century. Mass vaccination was not introduced until after the second world war, although it obviously contributed to the better health enjoyed by the children. The decline in child mortality rates meant that parents didn't need to have as many children to ensure that few survived.
As standards of living increased and childhood came to be seen as a special period in our lives, having children became expensive business and consequently parents chose to limit the size of their families.
Attitudes towards women's roles dramatically changed during the course of the 20th century and this had a profound effect upon women's attitudes towards family life, having children, education and careers. It resulted in a decline in fertility as women chose to have fewer children and chose not to have children at all.
Changes in the fertility rate
The fertility rate generally refers to the number of children that women of childbearing age have in 1 year. Fertility rates have generally declined over the past 100 years.
Fertility and Age
There is evidence at women are delaying having families. Changes in fertility rates suggest that women are having children at an older age that they were 30 years ago.
The average age of married women giving birth has increased by six years since 1971 to 30 in 2003.
Explanations for changes in fertility rate
3 main reasons why fertility rates fell towards the end of the 20th century:
Reliable birth control, particularly the contraceptive pill, gave women far greater power over reproduction.
Educational opportunities expanded for females, particularly entry into university. This coincided with an increase in job opportunities for females as the service sector of the economy expanded.
Attitudes towards family life underwent a profound cultural change as a result of economic change. Women could see that there were other lifestyle choices in addition to getting married and having children
There are some evidence that declining fertility rates have encourages the decline or full-time mother and encouraged the growth of dual-career families in which couples combine paid work with family life and childcare. Over 60% of couples with children now combine jobs and family life
There are 2 types of dual-earner families:
Some professional couples are extremely committed to their careers but make decisions to have a child once these careers are established.
The other more common type of dual-earner family is composed of the husband who earns the major share of the family income and the female who works part time. In this situation, it is likely that it is she who takes major responsibility for childcare and the upkeep of the home.
The Death Rate
The annual number of deaths has remained relatively steady since 1901. There were peaks in the number of deaths during both the first and the second world wars. The peak of 690000 in 1918 represented the highest annual number of deaths ever recorded.
The death rate has remained relatively steady because:
-Health care and medicine has improved.
-Sanitation, water supply and living standards have improved.
In 1851, life expectancy at birth in England and Wales was 40 years for males and 44 for females. Just 150 years later in modern day industrialised UK, life expectancy has nearly doubled.
The result in life expectancy is the result of improved public health, medical technology and practice, rising living standards and better care and welfare facilities.
There is also evidence that life expectancy also depends on social class and ethnicity - those in middle class jobs tend to live longer than those in manual jobs and the unemployed, whilst some ethnic minorities have lower life expectancy.
The ageing population
The decline in death rate, especially infant mortality, and the increase in life expectancy has led to an ageing population in the UK.
There are increasing numbers of over 65s and decreasing numbers of children under 16.
In 1821, there were very large numbers of young people but very few of them were surviving into the old age. Today, there are fewer young people, only 12% of the population is aged under 10 years compared with 27% in 1821, whilst numbers of those aged over 80 years have increased from 1% in 1821 to 4% in 2004.
Its predicted that people aged over 65 years will outnumber people aged under 16 for the first time in 2014 and that the gap will widen after.
Elderly and one-person household
The ageing of the population has led to an increase in the number of one-person households over state pension age as a proportion of all households.
in 2005, 14% of all households were of this type.
Women aged 65 and over were more likely to live alone than men because of their superior life themselves.
In 2005, 59% of women aged 75 and over were living alone.
Although older people are increasingly living alone, this does not mean that they are isolated. Evidence suggest that many of them have regular contact with extended kin, There is evidence that working class families, in particular, still see great virtue in maintaining extended families.
The study villains by Janet Foster (1990) - of an East End London community - found that adults chose to live only a few streets away from their parents and other close relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and visited them regularly. Ties between mothers and children were particualrly strong. Emotional and material supports was frequently offered to family members.
Other research by Philipson and Downs (1999), and O'Brien an Jones (1996) found that children and grandchildren saw their elderly relatives on a frequent basis, whereas ONS data collected in 2003 found that 61% of grandparents saw their grandchildren once a week. Many elderly relatives were using new technology such as email to keep in contact with their extended kin.
Branned (2003) notes that the ageing population, the increasing tendancy of women to pursue both higher education and a career, the consequent decline in fertility and the availability of divorce has led to the recent emergence of four-generation families - families that include great grandparents and great grandchildren. She notes that families today are less likely to experience horizontal intragenerational ties, i.e. we have fewer aunts, uncles, and cousins. Branned argues that we are now more likely to experience vertical intragenerational ties i.e. closer ties with grandparents and great grandparents
In 1972, the highest ever number of couples (480,000) since the second world war got married - According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), this was due to the baby boom generation of the 1950s reaching marriageable age and these people choosing to marry at a younger age compared with previous generations.
However, the annual numberof marriages in England and Wales then went into decline and, despite a slight revival in marriage in 2004 when 273,000 couples got married, reached an all time low in 2005 when only 244,710 couples got married.
In 1994 the marriage rate was 11.4 but this had declined to 10.3 by 2004.
Furthermore, only 32% of marriages in 2004 involved a religious ceremony, compared to 51% in 1991.
Berthoud (2000) - suggests that 3/4 of Pakistani and Bangledeshi women are married by the age of 25, compared with just over half of white women.
British African-Caribbeans are the group least likely to get married - only 39% of Caribbean adults under the age of 60 are in a formal marriage, compared with 60% of british adults.
An analysis of marriage statistics by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2007 concludes that marriages is good for the health of couples and that married people live longer than single or divorced people.
Murphey (2007) suggests that it could be bad relationships rather than divorce that makes people unhappy and hence ill.
Fears about what marriage statistics reveal are probably exaggerated for 4 reasons:
1-People are delaying marriage rather than rejecting it. Most people will marry at some point of their life. However, peopel are marrying later in life, probably after a period of cohabitation. The average for first time brides om 2003 was 29 and for all grooms 31 years.
2-British Social Attitude Surveys indicate that most people, whether single, divorce or cohabiting, still see marriage as a desirable life goal. People also believe that having children is best done in the context of marriage.
3-2/5 of all marriages are remarriage. These people are obviously committed to the institution of marriage despite their previous negative experience of it.
4-Despite the decrease in the overall number of people marrying, married couples are still the main type of partnership for men and women in the UK. In 2005, 7 in 10 families were headed by a married couple
Wilkinson (1994) notes that femaile attitudes towards marriage and family life have undergone a radical change or 'genderquake'. She argues taht young females mo longer prioritise marriage and children, as their mothers and grandmothers did.
Educational opportunites and the feminisation of the economy have resulted in young women weighing up the costs of marriage and having children against the benefits of a career and economic independence.
The result of this is that many females, particularly middle-class graduates, are postponing marriage and family life until their careers are established. This is supported by the statistics which show that births to women aged between 35 and 39 have dramatically increased in the last 20 years.
Other feminist sociologists are sceptical about the value of marriage.
Smith (2001) argues that marriage creates unrealistic expectations about monogamy and faithfulness in a wrold characterised by sexual freedom.
She argues that at different points in people's life cycles, people need different things that often can only be gained from a new partner.
Campbell (2000) suggests that marriage benefits men more than is does women.
A constant source of concern to the New Right has been the significant rise in the number of couples cohabitating during the last decade.
The proporting of non-married people cohabitating has risen sharply in the last 20 years from 11% of men and 13% of women in 1986 to 24% and 25% respectively.
In 2007, the ONS suggested that cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Around 2.2 million families are cohabiting couples with or without children. This family type has grown by 65% since 1997.
New Right commentators claim that cohabitation is less stable than marriage.
Morgan (2000) claimed that cohabititing couples were less happy and less fulfilled than married coupkes, and more likely to be abusive, unfaithful, stressed and depressed.
Murphey suggested that children whose parents live together but are not married get worse results at school, leave education earlier and have higher risk of developing serious illness.
Kieran (2007) notes that it is difficult to generalise about cohabiting couples. These may include people who are about to marry, those who oppose marriage and those who are just testing the strength of the relationship in a situation that has become more socially acceotable in the last 10 years.
Other research suggests that cohabitiation is a temporary phase lasting on average about 5 years. Approximately 60% of cohabiting couples eventually marry - usually some time after the first child is born.
There is also some evidence that a significant number of people live together simply because they are waiting for a divorce.
Marital breakdown can take 3 different forms: divorce, seperation and empty-shell marriages:
Divorce - refers to the legal ending of a marriage, Since the Divroce Reform Act of 1969, divorce has been granted on the basis of 'irretrievable breakdown', and since 1984, couples have been able to petition for divorce after the first anniversary of their marriage.
Seperation - is where couples agree to live apart after the first breakdown of a marriage. In the past when divorce was difficult to obtain or too expensive, seperation was often the only solution.
Empty-Shell Marriages - are those in which husband and wife stay together in name only. There may longer be any love or intamacy between them. Today such marriages are likely to end in seperation or divorce, although this type of relationship may persist for the sake of the children or for religious reasons.
Britains divorce rate is high compared with other European societies.
In 1938, 6000 divorces were granted in the UK. This figure has increased by 1970, and in 1993, numbers peaked at 180,000. By 2000, this figure had falled to 154,600 although the years 2001 -2004 have seen a gradual rise to 167,100.
There are now nearly half as many divorces as marriages and, if present trends continue, about 40% of all marriages will end in divorce.
New Right sociologists argue that such divorce statistics are one of the symptoms of a serious crisis in the family. They suggest that divorce is too easily available, with the resuly that they were in the past.
New Right sociologists argue that children who experience the divorce of their parents suffer a range of problems as they get older, such as being more prone to crime and unemployment.
Rodgers and Pryor (1998) found that children from seperated families are more likely than children from 2 parent families to suffer behavoural problems, to underachieve at school, to become sexually active, and if female became pregnant at an early age, and to smoke, drink and use druges during adolescence. When they become adults, they are more likely to experience poverty.
Flouri and Buchanan (2002) study of 17,000 children from families that had experienced seperation and divorce found that in families where the fathers were still involved with their children, the children were more successful in gaining educational qualifications and continued to seek out educational opportunies in adult life. They are less likely to get in trouble with the police and less likely to become homeless. Such children grow up to enjpy more stable and satisfying relationships with their adult partners.
However Buchanan found that if conflict continued after divorce between parents, children could become vulnerable to mental health problems.
Why is the divorce rate increasing?
Changes in the divorce law have generally made it easier and cheaper to end marriage, but this is not necessarily the cause of the rising divorce rates.
Sociologists argue that social expectations about marriage have changed.
Functionalist sociologists even argue that the high divorce rates are evidence that marriage is increasingly valued and that people are demanding higher standards from their partners.
Couples are no longer prepared to put up with unhappy, 'empty-shell' marriages. People want emotional and sexual compatibility and equality, as well as companionship.
Thornes amd Collards (1979) view that women expect far more from marriage than mend, and that they value friendship and emotional gratification more than men do. If male fails to live up to these expectations, women may feel the need to look elsewhere.
Why is the divorce rate increasing?
Hart (1976) notes that divorce may be a reaction to the frustration that many working woves may feel ifthey are responsible for the bulk of housework and childcare.
Similarly, it may also be the outcome of tension produced by women taking over the traditional male role of breadwinner in some households, especially if the male unemployed.
Postmodern approaches to divorce
Beck and Beck-gernshiem (1995) argue that rising divorce rates are the prodcut of a rapidly changing world in which the traditional rules, rituals and traditions of love, romance and relationships no longer apply. In particular, they point out that the modern world is characterised by individualisation, choice and conflict.
Individualisation - we are under less pressure to conform to traditional collective goals set byo ut extended famiy, religion or culture. We now have freedom to pursue individual goals.
Choice - cultural and economic changes mean that we have a greater range of choices available to us in terms of lifestyle and living arrangements.
Conflict - There is now more potential for antagonism between men and women because there is a natural clash or interest between the selfishness required by relationships, marriage and family life.
The number of one parent families with dependent children tripled for 2% of UK households in 1961 to 7% in 2005.
There are now approximately 1.75 million lone parent families in Britain , making up about 23% of all families.
The fastest growing group of single parents is made up of those who have never married or cohabited.
Ford and Miller (1998) not that lone parenthood is seen by some as an inherently second rate and imperfect family type, refelcting the selfish choices of adults against the interest of children.
The reconstituted or stepfamily is made up of divorced or widowed people who have remarried, and their children from the previous marriage. Such families are on the increase because of the rise in divorce. In 2003 it was estimated that 726,000 children were living in this type of family.
Reconstituted families are unique because children are also likely to have close ties with their other natural parent.
De'Ath and Slater (1992) study of step-parenting identified a number of challanges facing reconstituted families. Children may find themselves pulled in 2 directions, especially if the relationship between their natural parents continues to be strained. They may have a tense relationship with their step parents and stepchild accept eachother, especially with regard to whether the child accepts the newcomer as a 'mother' and 'father'.
Power and Control in the family
Studies of housework and childcare
The idea that equality is a central characteristic of marriage is strongly opposed by feminist sociologists.
Dryden (1999) - qualitative study of 17 married couples found that women still had major responsibility for housework and childcare.
Lader et al (2006) - found that women in paid work spent 21 hours a week on average on housework compared with only 12 hours spent by men on the same. Overall, this survey found that 92% of women do the same amount of housework per day, compared to only 77% of men.
British Panel Survey (2001) suggests that whatever the work-domestic set-up, women do more in the home than men.
McKee and Bell (1986) found that unemployed men in their study found it degrading to do housework and to be 'kept' by their employed wives.
Studies of housework and childcare
The quantifiable evidence, therefore, indicates that women are still likely to experience a dual burden or double shift - that they are expected to be mainly responsible for the bulk of domestic tasks, despite holding down full-time jobs.
Women are also responsible for the emotional well-being of their partners and children.
Duncombe and Marsden (1995) have found that women felt that their male partners were lacking in terms of 'emotional participation', i.e. men found it difficult to express their feelings, to tell their partners how they felt about them and to relate emotionally to their children. They argue that this increases the burden on women because they feel they should attempt to compensate and please all parties in the home.
Surveys of young married couples with children conclude that the decision to have children, although jointly reached, dramatically changes the life of the mother rather than the father.
Bernardes (1997) notes, that in the UK, most female careers are interrupted by childbirth, but only a small minority of mothers return to their pre-baby jobs and most experience downward mobility into precarious, low-paid, part time jobs with few rights.
Hardill et al (1997) discovered that middle class wives generally deferred to their husbands in major decisions involving where to live, the size of the mortgage, buying cars etc.
New Right critique of one parent families is the view that most of them lack fathers.
Dennis and Erdos (2000) for example, suggest that fatherless children are less likely to be successfully socialised into the culture of discipline and compromise found in nuclear families, and so are less likely to be successful parents themselves.
It is suggested that such children lack an authority figure to turn to in times of crisis and, as a result, the peer group and mass media have an increased influence. It is argued that such influence is likely to lead to an increase in social problems, such as delinquency, sexual promiscuity, teenage pregnancy and drug use.
Bernardes notes that the Children Act clearly states that the mother should have parental responsibility for a child if the parents are not married. It is estimated that 40% of fathers lose touch completely with their children after 2 years; others will experience irregular contact of conflict with their ex-partners about access agreements.
Recent research has focused on the pressure of work in the 21st century.
A survey by Dex in 2003 found that 30% of father worked more than 48 hours a week on a regular basis.
Gray found that many fathers would like to spend more time with their children but are prevented by long work hours from bonding effectively with their children.
The social capital approach
Researchers have taken a 'social capital' approach to childcare. This has resulted in parenting being re-defined s investing time in children which will benefit there educationally, economically and emotionally.
Social capital research therefore focuses on how parents interpret time spent with children
Gray's research found that both male and female parents in her study saw spending time with children as important aspect of family relationships. Fathers, in particular, saw spending time alone with a child as quality time because they were more likely than women to be doing it out of choice father than an obligation.
Feminists have highlighted the influence of patriarchal ideology on the perceptions of both husbands and wives.
Surveys indicate that many women accept primary responsibility for housework and childcare without question and believe that their career should be secondary to that of their husband. Such ideas are also reflected in state policy, which encourages female economic dependence upon men.
Patriarchal ideology expects women to take on jobs that are compatible with family committments.
Surveys suggest that a large number of mothers feel guilty about working. Some actually give up work altogether because they believe that their absence somehow damages their children.
The mother/housewife role and work
Some feminist sociologists have concluded that women's participation in the labour market is clearly limited by their domestic responsibilities. Because of these responsibilities, very few women have continuous full time careers. Mothers, then tend to have 'jobs', while their husbands have 'careers'. As a result, women don't have the same access to promotion and training opportunities as men.
Violence in families
The power of men to control women by physical force. This type of violence is estimated to be the most common type of violence in the UK although, because it takes place behind closed doors, often without witnesses, it is notoriously difficult to measure and document. It is also difficult to define.
Sclater (2000) notes, some behaviour such as kicking and punching, is easily recognisable as violent, but behaviour such as threats, verbal abuse, psychological manipulation and sexual intimidation are less easy to categorised and may not be recognised by some men and women as domestic violence.
The official statistics tell us that violence by men against their female partners accounts for a third of all reported violence.
Stanko (2000) survey found that one incident of domestic violence is reported by women to the police every minute in the UK.
Violence in families
Mirrlees-Black (1999) using data from the British Crime Survey, found that women were more likely to suffer domestic violence more than men - 70% of reported domestic violence by men against their female partner. These figures are thoughts to be an underestimate because many women are reluctant to come forward for various reasons:
-They love their partners and think they can change them.
-They blame themselves in some way for the violence.
-They feel they may not be taken seriously.
-They are afraid of the repercussions.
Violence in families
Some sociologists have reported increases in female violence on men, but it is estimated that this constitutes, at most, only 5% of all domestic violence.
Nazroo (1999) research indicates, wives often live in fear or men's potential domestic violence or threats, while husbands rarely feel frightened or intimidated by their wives' potential for violence.
Theoretical explanations of inequalities in power
There are 4 major theoretical perspectives on the distribution of power and control in the family:
1 Functionalist see the sexual division of labour in the home as biologically inevitable. Women are seen as naturally suited to the caring and emotional role, which Parsons terms the 'expressive role'.
2 Liberal feminists believe that women have made real progress in terms of equality within the family and particularly in education and the economy believe that men are adapting to change, although they culturally lag behind women in terms of attitudes and behaviour, the future is likely to bring further movement towards domestic and economic equality.
3 Marxits-Feminists argue that the housewife role serves the needs of capitalism in that it maintains the present workforce and reproduces the future labour-power.
4 Radical feminists such as Delphy (1984) believe that 'the first oppression is the oppression of women by men - women are an exploited class'. The housewife role is a role created by patriarchy and geared to the service of men and their interests.
Criticisms of these theories
-These theories fail to explain why women's roles vary across different cultures. For example, the mother/housewife role does not exist in all societies. -Feminism may be guilty of devaluing the mother/housewife role. For many women, housework and childcare, like paid work, have a real and positive meaning. Such work may be invested with meaning for women because it is 'work done for love' and it demonstrates their commitment to their families. -Feminists may underestimate the degree of power that women actually enjoy. Women are concerned about the amount of housework men do, but they are probably more concerned about whether men show enough gratitude or whether men listen to them, etc. The fact that women divorce their husbands indicates that they have power to leave a relationship if they are unhappy with it.